Friday, February 24, 2017

Don't Watch This Alone!: LET'S BE EVIL

Welcome to another installment of DON'T WATCH THIS ALONE!, where we review the best, worst, and everything in between in the world of horror. This week we review a first-person thriller about technology run amok: LET'S BE EVIL.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. There are a lot of tropes that keep cropping up in horror movies for the simple reason that they work well, or at least they can work well if utilized correctly. 2016's Let's Be Evil relies on these heavily, and what really disappoints me about the film overall is that it almost works. There's no failure so painful as the one that was almost success.

Let's Be Evil starts off with some vague setup before getting down to business. First is a flashback to an event from the childhood of main character Jenny: she disturbs a man in the shower just before he's shot and killed by an unseen assailant. Who this man was is never explained, though it's clear he recognizes her. "The past can define the future," Jenny tells us in voice-over. "But I won't let it." This morsel means nothing to the story that will play out.

Next, a TV news interview between an anchorwoman and an anonymous suit. The suit is declaring that "something must be done" regarding our failing education system and that "steps are being taken" to correct the situation. This morsel may have some bearing on the story. The implication is there, but we never find out for sure.

Our story opens with Jenny learning that she's just been accepted for a job as a chaperone at The Posterity Project, an experimental learning center for gifted children which uses Augmented Reality as an educational tool. As a simple, repetitive theme heavy with minor chords and sinister portent thumps in our ears, Jenny sets out for her new job.

You can probably guess the rest. The Posterity Project complex is isolated many stories underground; think The Hive from Resident Evil with fewer amenities, and a less sinister AI running the place. The kids participating in the project are all stone silent, unresponsive and creepy as hell as they focus on their AR learning and nothing else. Things head south, scary stuff happens, we get an ending that leaves us with more questions than we had before, and that's it. There are a few surprises in the plot, but only a few.

As I said, the film relies heavily on the old reliable horror tropes, including darkness; long, barren hallways; children; unaccountable noises, and claustrophobia. Some of this works well, especially given the film's use of first-person perspective. I don't normally endorse FPV as a film-making technique, mostly because it's used in the attempt to make action movies that feel like first-person shooter video games, which always fails. It works here for two reasons. One, Let's Be Evil mostly slows the action down enough that the long FPV sequences aren't disorienting. Second, The Posterity Project is so reliant on Augmented Reality that Jenny and the other chaperones have to wear AR glasses to be able to navigate the complex. If they take them off, they fall into pitch darkness. Forcing us to see through the characters' eyes (as they wear their AR glasses) is a constant reminder their dependency on the glasses, and the inherent fallibility of their own perception as things fall apart.

And they fall apart in relatively short order, as the kids go from being utterly silent, to inscrutable, screaming little hellspawn bent on murdering Jenny and her colleagues. How did they get this way? It's suggested it has something to do with the AR, but we could have guessed that much on our own. No real details are given. And those five words really sum up the rest of the movie. There's a twist, but "no real details are given". There's a reveal at the end, but "no real details are given". Got questions? Of course you will. You'll have a whole truckload of 'em by the end, and you'll be able to answer maybe one in ten of them. A quick Google search suggests no sequel is forthcoming, even though the door is left so wide open for one that the film feels unfinished.

We're left with what I guess is a half-baked parable about the darkness and sorrow that must surely wait for us if we ever abandon public education. That's a debatable topic, but if that is the point of Let's Be Evil, then its warning makes about as much sense as those found in the sci-fi movies from the 1950s. The ones about how nuclear testing would result in a cosmic plague, or how human weapons testing would eventually result in a bomb that exploded light. I expect Let's Be Evil is destined to join the ranks of these forgettable movies. It has too much fear, and too little logic.

Let's Be Evil is not rated.

Robert's Score: 5/10

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